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Togo: President Gnassingbe under pressure

Martina Schwikowski im
September 8, 2017

In Togo, protesters are calling for the resignation of President Faure Gnassingbe. The opposition is confident that it will be successful in forcing a change in government. But will the president go voluntarily?

Togo Protest #Faure Must Go
Image: Getty Images/AFP/P. U. Ekpei

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of people have taken to the streets of Togo, calling for the resignation of President Faure Gnassingbe.The most recent protest took place on Thursday, where riot police fired tear gas at a crowd of people who had gathered at the capital, Lome. Demonstrators said they were determined to stay in the streets all night, but were eventually dispersed by security forces.

It's the first time in Togo's history that the country's opposition parties have formed a united mass movement of more than 100,000 people. Clad in yellow and red t-shirts, the protestors shout "Free Togo!", "Faure must go!" and "50 years are enough!" – a clear message to the Gnassingbe family dynasty who have led the country since the 1967 coup d'état.

These demonstrations have been taking place across the country since August. Opposition leaders had been hoping to force the government to initiate reforms. So far, two people have been killed in the protests and at least 13 injured, as security forces retaliate. Although most rallies held this week have remained peaceful, the situation is tense, culminating in a shutdown of mobile internet services on Wednesday.

The opposition however remains undeterred. "We will continue to pursue our goals," the leader of the Pan-African National Party (PNP), Tikpi Salifou Atchadam, told DW. They want the 1992 Constitution of Togo to be amended to limit the presidential term to two five-year terms. They also want Togolese citizens living abroad to be able to participate in elections: of approximately seven million Togolese, around two million live outside of the country.

Togo's  President Faure Gnassingbe 15.05.2013
Togo's President Faure Gnassingbe is under increasing pressure to resignImage: Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images

Cabinet takes first step in limiting presidential term

But the mood in Togo has shifted – it's not just about reform anymore, with many protestors also calling for a complete change of power.

"People have had enough, I do not believe in opening up a dialogue with the regime," said Atchadam. In 2005, it only took the government one night to make Faure Gnassingbe president following the death of his father, despite the fact that he was not actually a member of the National Assembly. Back then, Atchadam added, politicians could have acted quickly, but now they are only trying to buy more time.

From the outside, it appears that the Togolese government is attempting to appease the demonstrators. This week, the cabinet passed a draft bill which would amend the constitution and introduce presidential term limits.

"We hope it will calm the situation so that a democratic debate can take place at the National Assembly and a compromise can be reached," said Minister of Labor and Administration Reform, Gilbert Bawara.

However Clement Klutse, who fled to Germany from Togo 20 years ago, does not trust the government. "The government has been playing these games with the opposition and the people for a long time," he told DW. "The opposition has no choice: violence and killings are part of the political reality in Togo."

A 50-year family dynasty

From the opposition's point of view, Klutse believes this draft law is already a lost cause. "Two years ago, the members of the parliament voted against such a bill," he says. The Gnassingbe family, who belong to the Kibiye ethnic group from the north of the country, has spent decades clinging on to power. Although for a long time opposition towards the family came from the south, people from the north have now also joined the democracy movement and are voicing their demands for the formation of a transitional government and fresh elections. Klutse says the international community should also express their support for Togo's opposition and make it clear that a family dynasty should not govern a country for an unlimited amount of time.

In 1992, former president Gnassingbe Eyadema actually did introduce a new law which limited the presidential term to two electoral periods. He rescinded it 10 years later however in order to stay in power until his death in 2005 when he was succeeded by his son.

Togo Protest #Faure Must Go
Protestors are confident they will eventually succeed in changing Togo's constiution to limit presidential termsImage: Getty Images/AFP/P. U. Ekpei

Presidential guard remains loyal to Eyadema

"There is no doubt that those fatigues in Togo are the Gnassingbe administration…increasingly there will be pressure on those who have remained in power for a very long time," said the head of the Africa Program at the Chatham House think tank in London, Alex Vines. 

But the situation in Togo differs from that of Burkina Faso in 2014, when the population essentially forced President Blaise Compaoré to resign from office. This is less likely to occur in Togo, as the soldiers remain extremely loyal to their president.

Vines believes that a constitutional amendment which would limit the presidential term to a maximum of ten years would be an important step for politics on the African continent. "It does mean that the whole of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) – every state in ECOWAS basically respects two term mandates and that's strategically important for West Africa, but it's also a really important precedent for the whole continent," he said. 

Vines also thinks that President Gnassingbe himself also played a role in introducing this draft law reform. "I think he is aware that the politics are changing in Africa," he said.